Friday, July 15, 2005

Critique of US television news media from "Baghdad Burning"

A recent visit to Baghdad Burning reminded me why I think universal accessibility to weblog tools is now such an important aspect of any definition of the global "digital divide". The author talks about her surprise at finding US-media news programming broadcast throughout Iraq in recent months, and provides a lively deconstruction of what she sees:

I've been enchanted with the shows these last few weeks. The thing that strikes me most is the fact that the news is so ... clean. It's like hospital food. It's all organized and disinfected. Everything is partitioned and you can feel how it has been doled out carefully with extreme attention to the portions- 2 minutes on women's rights in Afghanistan, 1 minute on training troops in Iraq and 20 minutes on Terri Schiavo! All the reportages are upbeat and somewhat cheerful, and the anchor person manages to look properly concerned and completely uncaring all at once.

About a month ago, we were treated to an interview on 20/20 with Sabrina Harman- the witch in some of the Abu Ghraib pictures. You know- the one smiling over faceless, naked Iraqis piled up to make a human pyramid. Elizabeth Vargus was doing the interview and the whole show was revolting. They were trying to portray Sabrina as an innocent who was caught up in military orders and fear of higher ranking officers. The show went on and on about how American troops never really got seminars on Geneva Conventions (like one needs to be taught humanity) and how poor Sabrina was being made a scapegoat. They showed the restaurant where she worked before the war and how everyone thought she was "such a nice person" who couldn't hurt a fly!

We sat there watching like we were a part of another world, in another galaxy. I've always sensed from the various websites that American mainstream news is far-removed from reality- I just didn't know how far. Everything is so tame and simplified. Everyone is so sincere.

The key here, in my opinion, is the dialectical connection between media consumption and production that her weblog posting makes possible: I can sit in the US and read the weblog of a woman in Iraq, who is watching media designed to be distributed in the US that instead is now being redistributed in that society, and see her reacting from her perspective and challenging the images of US media she had previously heard secondhand from other Internet resources which she had long had access to. The dissemination of such personal interpretations of "dislocated" media to wider audiences, which themselves are reading those interpretations from their own "dislocated" positionality in a sense, is just wonderful.

Now if only we could fix our own broadcast news media here at home ...

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